The chair of the South Carolina Hospitality Association announced Thursday that at least $480,000 was missing from the organization’s funds.
Rick Erwin released the findings of an internal audit nine days after the group’s former President and CEO Tom Sponseller was found dead from an apparent suicide. Erwin said the group hired a Columbia firm to conduct the audit. The U.S. Secret Service has already been investigating the group’s funds.
“Let me be blunt. What we heard was shocking. It was sickening,” Erwin said, “And it was inexcusable.”
Erwin gave a statement Thursday, saying the association has been cooperating with investigators about the missing money. He said, while the investigation is still ongoing, Hospitality Association officials have determined that $480,944.93 has been either misappropriated or of a questionable nature at this point in time.
Erwin did say that the auditors have not discovered any direct evidence implicating Sponseller, but added he believed the former president should have realized the money was missing. Sponseller’s handwritten suicide note mentioned he was embarrassed about the missing funds. He also announced several changes that include a newly-created Financial Accountability Committee. Erwin said the new committee will develop and implement “best practices” standards for every penny coming into and going out of the association.
The federal investigation is targets the group’s former bookkeeper, Rachel Duncan, although she has not been charged. Erwin said Thursday that Duncan’s W-2 form reported more than $70,000 in income, which Erwin said was nearly double what it was supposed to be.
Erwin is acting as the group’s interim director after Sponseller’s death.
South Carolina Radio Network’s Tripp Girardeau contributed to this report